Researchers from Spain and the United Kingdom conducted a study to evaluate the impact of human activity in Antarctica and discovered the presence in Antarctic marine mammals of potentially pathogenic E.Coli bacterial pathogens that "are often implicated in human diseases."
The article has been published in the magazineScientific Reports -of the Nature group- and signed first by the researcherAzucena Mora, from the department ofMicrobiology and Parasitology from the University of Santiago. Members of the Animal Health and Zoonosis group (SALUVET) of theComplutense University of Madrid, of theOceanographic Foundation of Valencia and of theUniversity of Warwick (UK).
This first study tests the presence of human-associated E. coli strains in Antarctic mammals, specifically in specimens of Wedell's seal, elephant seal and Antarctic sea lion. The results of this research show that these marine animals, which inhabit areas that are supposedly virgin and barely touched by human activity, present potentially pathogenic E. coli pathotypes that are frequently implicated in human diseases.
From 193 fecal samples, 158 strains of E. coli were obtained. The first surprise that the Lugo group got was to find "a high prevalence of E. coli isolates," explains Azucena Mora, given that in previous studies, which were not many, it had been seen that the presence was low except in the case of animals in captivity or in contact with human populations. E. coli, explains this researcher, “is part of the normal microbiota of most warm-blooded mammals, but the referenced studies said that there was not as much prevalence in these mammals when they were not in contact with areas of high activity human ”.
Impact of scientific and tourist activities in Antarctica
The origin of this study is, says the USC in a statement, that there is a "growing concern about the impact of scientific activities" and tourism "in relatively intact ecosystems."
In fact, "marine mammals act as bioindicators of possible environmental changes, but most of the studies carried out so far in these areas have focused on the effect of untreated wastewater discharges next to research stations."
According to researcher Azucena Mora, the challenge now lies in determining “how and when” these pathogens got to the food eaten by these marine mammals, given that a “possible explanation could be the geographic mobility of these animals, contacting areas of greater activity human ”.
With information from: